What would the great innovators and business pioneers associated with Shannon Airport over the years have made of the Government’s vision for the Airport announced this week? I believe they would have applauded the new structures and have been enthused by the business plan put forward by Government that will be implemented over the coming weeks and months. Shannon Airport has always embraced and empowered a pioneering spirit. It has always both adapted to and driven change in the aviation industry. I believe it can do so once again. Over the last decade the Airport was allowed to slowly wither, accelerated by political ambivalence and legislative failure. We heard promise after promise made and broken by Fianna Fáil in Government in relation to Shannon Airport. In fact, Shannon was a state airport in name only, and post open-skies in particular it was left to its own devices, without any assistance or direction from Dublin. Coupled with this, its hands were tied by the bureaucratic and centralised Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) – an agency more interested in minding Dublin than facilitating Shannon.
My Government colleagues and I in County Clare were elected with a clear mandate to take action in relation to Shannon Airport. Extensive consultations and expert advice, including detailed submission made by many to Booz and Company last November, highlighted a clear desire that we should take back some degree of ownership and influence over Shannon Airport locally. I am pleased to say that I submitted an in-depth report which is strongly endorsed in the proposals now adopted by Government. We now have an independent Shannon Airport, free from the shackles of the DAA, but still State owned. Crucially, we have dealt with the debt issue, and ensured that Shannon Airport begins the next phase of its commercial life without the burden of historic debt. The achievement of debt-free status should not be underestimated. Fianna Fáil in Government failed to take this decision during the so-called ‘good times’. This Government will ensure the €100 million debt is no longer a drag on Shannon’s progress and I very much welcome that and am particularly pleased that the ensuing interest on this debt is no longer a charge the New Shannon will have to be concerned with. It is disappointing that some local public representatives have failed to acknowledge this great advance.
The new Board at Shannon Airport has a once in a lifetime chance to make this new initiative succeed. This Board will drive the establishment of an international aviation services centre. Already, we have a commitment of 850 jobs from private companies who see merit in the proposed new structures. Should the airport develop as envisaged, those job numbers are likely to multiply. As often happens with significant change like this, there is an element of uncertainty and fear. I know that workers have concerns, and indeed I have met with and listened to these concerns directly. It should be pointed out that not doing anything in relation to Shannon Airport was the most certain way of threatening the livelihoods of the current workforce in Shannon. We simply could not stand by as Shannon Airport suffered. Current workers are protected under the terms of their employment, and I believe in time the developments now taking place will enhance the security of the Shannon workforce. Let there be no doubt about it, the future prospects for our Airport is very much dependent on a satisfied and appreciated workforce, and it is important therefore that clear and constructive lines of communication are established and maintained in the new structures. We need the workforce’s expertise, their endeavour and their proven ability to adapt to changing work environments.
There is some disappointment that Aer Rianta International (ARI) will not form part of the new Shannon. In part, this is a legacy issue as the option of setting ARI up as a subsidiary of Shannon was blocked by the Dublin Board years ago. The only commercial option at this point is to separate ARI from Shannon if the Airport is to begin life debt free. I believe that in time a prosperous Shannon will see this decision as a necessary one and of course initiatives such as ARI can be established under the new structures.
In recent days, some elected representatives have tried to maximise this issue for political gain. These are the very people who stood idly by as Shannon Airport fell further and further down the political agenda. I’m not interested in political games. I want for all key stakeholders in this region to get behind this plan for the Airport. As Minister Leo Varadkar has outlined, without serious action, there is a real question mark over the viability of Shannon Airport remaining a 24-hours a day international transport hub. The time for empty rhetoric and unrealistic demands is over. Shannon Airport needs action and concerted effort if it is to truly prosper. I genuinely look forward with optimism to Shannon Airport recovering that pioneering spirit which has stood it so well over the decades.